Common Milkweed and its Natural Remedies

Is Milkweed Poisonous?

George and Becky Lohmiller


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Common milkweed is a poisonous but very useful and abundant plant that features in many natural remedies.

Common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) is the best known of the 100 or so milkweed species native to North America. The name “common” fits the plant well because when not in bloom, it goes pretty much unnoticed, growing humbly along roadsides, in fields, and in wastelands.

Natural Remedies with Milkweed

  • Native Americans taught early European settlers how to properly cook milkweed so that it could be safely eaten. (See note below.)
  • The milky white sap was applied topically to remove warts, and the roots were chewed to cure dysentery.
  • Infusions of the roots and leaves were taken to suppress coughs and used to treat typhus fever and asthma.

Note: Today, experienced foragers have enjoyed eating milkweed, if it is properly identified (there are poisonous lookalikes, such as dogbane) and prepared (boiled). Some common milkweed plants (A. syriaca) are mild tasting while others are bitter (in which case, avoid or boil in several changes of water). If you are new to foraging, have an expert help you to identify, gather, and prepare the plant properly before eating. As with any herb, take a small amount at first, to be sure that you don’t have a reaction.

Find out about other helpful natural remedies.

Caution: Do not get milkweed sap in your eyes (such as rubbing your eyes after touching the sap); wash your hands thoroughly after handling the plant. Also, some people may develop an allergic reaction when the sap touches the skin.

Is Milkweed Poisonous?

Beneath its dull, gray-green exterior, milkweed is full of uncommon surprises.

  • Inside the plant is a sticky white sap that contains a mild poison; its bitter taste warns away many of the animals and insects that try to eat its tender leaves.
  • Certain insects, including monarch butterfly larvae, are immune to the toxin. By feeding almost exclusively on milkweed leaves, they are able to accumulate enough of the poison in their bodies to make them distasteful to predators (which means that milkweed is a great plant to attract butterflies).

Fun Facts About Common Milkweed and Milkweed Uses

  • The stem’s tough, stringy fibers were twisted into strong twine and rope, or woven into coarse fabric.
  • In milkweed’s rough seed pods was another wonderful surprise. The fluffy white floss, attached to milkweed’s flat brown seeds, could be used to stuff pillows, mattresses, and quilts and was carried as tinder to start fires.


  • During World War II, the regular material used to stuff life jackets was in short supply, so milkweed floss was called for as a substitute—it is about six times more buoyant than cork!
  • Over the years, researchers have investigated growing milkweed for papermaking, textiles, and lubricants, and as a substitute for fossil fuels and rubber. Although these experiments were found economically unfeasible at the time, perhaps they should be revisited, given the rising costs of fuel and other materials.
  • In current research, a chemical extracted from the seed is being tested as a pesticide for nematodes.

We doubt if this surprisingly useful plant will run out of surprises anytime soon. Is there milkweed growing near your home? Let us know below!

Reader Comments

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Planted milkweed

Milkweed plants were very abundant in our fields when I was very young and we always had lots of butterflies on those plants -- smallish orange/black ones. Little did I know at the time they were monarch butterflies. Now, as an adult, I purchased milkweed seeds and have planted them in my flowerbed. Have only seen one monarch last year -- hopefully more will find the plants. We need to provide these plants for the monarchs to survive. The bees love the blossoms, too.

Mass. Field of milkweed

At Appleton Farms in Hamilton/Ipswich, a Trustees of Reservations property ( free to walk in )

Healed bruise

Behind our house there use to be a large untouched field where there were several of these. I will never forget the days when I was younger and I would go out alone to play in that field. One day right at the peak of dusk I remember being curious and pulling one of the pods off, taking the milk and rubbing it over several bruises I had acquired as an active 7 year old. The next day when I thought to look at them the bruises were completely gone. I still remember how shocked I was and to this day I still can't forget this aciddental discovery I made as a very young girl. Makes me sad to think of how the Native Americans discovered healing plants and now most of that wisdom and those healing plants are forever gone.


I have eaten Pink blooming Milkweed from the wild areas near my home. I do read up on wild plants before I try them. I grow Giant Burdock.. Vinegar Plant Lambs Quarter for the herbs and Dandelion as a green, Lovage plant and others.. I am learning to use them as foods and herbs. Its amazing...Want to dig a pond start ; Cat tails,, and try to grow some Talapia for food.!! This would be a be self sufficient!

Milk weed

Finally found some wild milk weed... spreading the seeds all over my back acre. Central Mass.


I always protect these plants around my house to help the butterflies.

Common Milkweed

We have this growing in abundance around us..was not sure what it was until I read this article...thanks...

milkweed sap

When we were kids out playing if we picked a scab or got scratched we always broke a milkweed leaf off and smeared the "glue" on it to stop the bleeding. It worked, never got sick. Our dad grew up in the mountains of s.e. ky told us about it. :)


Our house is on a .20 acre lot, so we don't have a huge yard, but my son refuses to cut the milkweed that grows around the house. He leaves it to feed the monarchs.


It wasn't milkweed floss used to stuff life preservers in WWII but instead CAT TAIL fir.


a fiend of mine picked it during the war for the life preservers - maybe they used both?

milkweed pods

just arriving in louisville, ky i began working in the yard finding many pods in different areas of my yard. the dog ate some and later threw up. concerned about poison he feels better 12 hours later.he has yet to start eating. he will soon, because he's a pug!

milkweed pods

just arriving in louisville, ky i began working in the yard finding many pods in different areas of my yard. the dog ate some and later threw up. concerned about poison he feels better 12 hours later.he has yet to start eating. he will soon, because he's a pug!

Common Milkweed

Our milkweed flowered, but did not produce any seed pods. Does anyone know why?
We have bee hives in our back yard and have seen monarch butterflies in our yard this summer.

Podding along

Hi, Lee: This could be a pollination or genetic problem of some sort, but more likely than not, it’s just not time for the pods to be fully developed, which can happen late into the fall depending on where you are. Also, FYI, one pod develops only for every 60 to 150 little flowers on the umbel. Thanks for asking!


I remember seeing this milkweed while living up north, but not in any nurseries or fields in N.C. I'd love to have it in my garden along with the other milkweeds I have, any suggestions?

If I pick the pods while they

If I pick the pods while they are green to save the seeds...will they dry properly? Or should I just let them dry naturally on the plant to have viable seeds? My mom has a few plants but she likes to cut them down before winter. I would like to grow my own milkweed using those I need an answer soon. Thank you.

Milkweed seeds will not

Milkweed seeds will not mature in a pod taken too soon off the plant. The pod itself is ready for harvest when the seam along it is just starting to open to release the seeds inside. If you squeeze the pod, it should open easily. The pod at this stage might be greenish or brownish. The seeds themselves should be dark, not pale green or white. Store dry seeds in a paper bag in a cool, dry place. When collecting pods, wear gloves--the sap can irritate skin and eyes. Wash hands thoroughly when done.

If this marvelous plant

If this marvelous plant becomes extinct, so will the Monarch Butterfly. It has been around for centuries .

Check your facts. Not only

Check your facts. Not only are the young pods edible and delicious, but so are the young plant shoots and the young flower buds. Milkweed is not poisonous and many people (myself included) eat it regularly. Check out the writings of Samuel Thayer.

Thank you for your feedback.

Thank you for your feedback. We have revised the text to clarify.

milk weed as kids we put the white sap from the stem when we bro

As kids roaming the fields, we broke the pod off and put the white sap on a wart. The wart went away. I had a red wart about 3/4 " long on the forth finger of my left hand, below the second joint. It was raised a disappeared sometime after that....I did not notice when exactly when. I do not recall anyone becoming sick. We must have touched many kinds of plants as we walked through the tall grasses (1940's) Before sprays and fears of walking across fields.

You may want to update this

You may want to update this important article to mention that Monsanto and other mfrs. of herbicides and pesticides (Such as Roundup) targets milkweed and other beneficial "weeds".

This has caused a dramatic decline of the Monarch population(not just the bees which are mostly what the media is focusing on right now).
Continued use of Roundup and other such poisons will eventually allow us to witness the extinction of these beautiful and much-needed animals.

I never knew just how bad

I never knew just how bad milkweed really was until now,if I only knew then what I know now,because we used to play with it all the time many years ago,an we were lucky to never have gotten sick :)

We played with it too. But

We played with it too. But none of our games included chewing on it. I'd you randomly chewed on a bunch of stuff as a kid, you had more to worry about than milkweed.

Turns out, I have this in my

Turns out, I have this in my backyard. I would always find it interesting when I would pull it open and find what looked to be the softest cotton id ever seen. It would be slightly sticky and so easy to ruffle the ''cotton''. And here I was touching something with poison. It grows every summer but recently its been growing alittle more rapidly than usual.

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